FBI Agent Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) portrays a Las Vegas showgirl in a scene from Miss Congeniality 2.
Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, which opens today (24 hours earlier than the usual Friday movie opening), ends with a plea for world peace.
He's being sarcastic, you say.
I'm not, I say.
It's a poignant plea, so poignant and sincere, in fact, I laughed out loud during a screening, and a woman behind me poked me in the back of the head with her index finger. (Should I sue? Discuss.)
Anyway, Sandra Bullock - having beaten up Dolly Parton and, with the help of a Tina Turner impersonator, rescued Miss United States (Heather Burns) and William Shatner from a pirate ship that was sinking in the parking lot of the Treasure Island casino in Las Vegas, where someone could have pushed a button and stopped the sinking - finds herself back in New York City addressing schoolgirls.
To which they respond, like pathetic Dickensian urchins:
More world peace, please.
And Bullock, in return, tells these girls they don't have to conform to anyone's Barbie ideals of what a woman should be.
She hasn't, look at her: She's armed and fabulous! This is apparently what Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous is about: having a positive body image, understanding the politics of femininity, world peace is good.
I was confused, too.
Being that Sandra Bullock returns as FBI agent Gracie Hart, the same Gracie who infiltrated the Miss United States pageant in the hit 2000 original - and being that this installment feels as unambitious and unnecessary as the first, but not nearly as likable - I wondered if I'd been sleeping for two hours. I'd thought I'd just sat through the sort of light, not-trying-at-all, contractually obligated sequel that plays slightly better on an airplane, where you can fall asleep and not notice so much that the screenwriters (including Bullock regular Marc Lawrence) have a premise, two or three scenes, and nothing to connect.
That spectacle on the pirate ship, for example, as directed by John Pasquin, plays out with the same slovenly intensity you find in the last five minutes of an episode of The Rockford Files. Bullock's pink boa (she's dressed as a showgirl) is caught beneath a cannon. Tina Turner (Regina King, in Tina drag) yanks at it. The water rises in the galley. The boa pulls loose. Everyone swims to safety. Shatner floats lazily to the surface, his career as a self-parody now apparently as buoyant as he is.
Then it hit me:
Miss Congeniality 2 actually forgot its own premise and tried shoehorning it in at the end. Picture a comedian who delivers the set-up, messes up the middle, and can't remember the punchline. And the set-up isn't bad: In the first film, Gracie landed her Pygmalion in Michael Caine, a beauty consultant who finds her rough-tumble FBI life appalling.
Gracie cracks the case and discovers her inner princess. The problem is, as her FBI bosses discover in the sequel, Gracie's new celebrity, duh, makes it hard to work undercover - a point I'm going to assume was intended as a subtle twist of the knife that's been lodged in the gut of the ailing bureau these days.
Here's where the premise goes wrong (aside from not making sense to begin with, of course): Gracie is taken off the street and recruited to become the "new face of the FBI." She wears bright yellow raincoats. She complains about her Fendi being scratched. She appears on Regis to sling her (ghostwritten) memoir. Did I mention the second film takes place three weeks after the first? (Only Brad-and-Jennifer breakup quickies hit shelves as fast.)
Let's deconstruct this:
In the first film, Bullock's FBI agent was a tomboy at heart. It's a solid joke. Comedy is often defined as a clash of sensibilities. A fish out of water can be funny.
In this new film, however, Gracie remains the same tomboy at heart but when her public relations gig takes off, she takes to the life of an airless, grating, bubble-headed publicity hound like, well, a fish to aqua.
Oddly, she embraces the brainlessness of it all, and even orders her FBI bodyguard, Sam Fuller (Regina Hall), to Starbucks for a venti caramel iced macchiato. She says this with an ugly sneer. Her entourage also includes stylists and a mincing gay stereotype of a fashion consultant (Diedrich Bader), and Gracie never complains at all.
But Sam Fuller (curiously named for the B-movie filmmaker) doesn't like this one bit. Sam is tough, violent; she has anger-management issues, and when Regina King head-butts, punches, or kicks Sandra Bullock, her face says she'd actually like to kill her. Not the character, either. King, underrated in just about everything in which she appears (including Ray), looks miserable, and she should: By the rules of the Miss Congeniality movies, she's the better fish out of water.
King looks so genuinely angry, this is the woman I wanted to see assigned the task of public-relations phony. Bullock looks entirely too comfortable. The actress spent a decade ingratiating herself to audiences by not trying very hard. We like this about her; in fact, the more abrasive Bullock is, the more we like her.
Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous finds her ingratiating in a more common, cloying fashion. It gives her a kidnapping mystery to solve but its enthusiasm is in the petty annoyance of being a celebrity. Bullock, who also produced, includes a half dozen scenes of fans stopping her at inappropriate moments to ask for an autograph or snap a photo.
There's a scene where she complains other people are "private failures" but she's so famous when she fails, she develops a public "failure face." It's not played for Legally Blonde-like irony.
It's ugly, but after you get over the shock of whether she is talking about your insignificant failures, there's this reassurance:
More junk like Miss Congeniality 2 and Sandra Bullock can go back to being a private failure.
Contact Christopher Borrelli at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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